Tucker Carlson’s Vladimir Putin stunt was like interviewing Hitler without asking about the concentration camps. It confirmed the Russian President is mad, bad and dangerous… and his interlocutor is a fool, writes ANDREW NEIL
In the end it was no contest. Tucker Carlson, broadcaster for the pro-Trump MAGA movement, has been blown out of the water by President Putin, dictator of all Russians. Carlson thought he was doing the Russian leader a favor by going to Moscow to give him a platform to explain why he invaded Ukraine and the multiple conspiracy theories that go with it, which Carlson and the MAGA cult uncritically churn out. But Putin did Carlson no favors.
From the start, Putin hijacked the interview with an endless discourse on Russian history that began in the 9th century and took more than half an hour to get to the 20th century, much less Putin’s invasion of Ukraine early in 2022, which is almost another half hour. If this is how Putin treats his friends, you can understand why his enemies fear him. He even teased Carlson that he once tried to join the CIA.
Carlson, apart from a few faint interjections, just sat there with an increasingly pained expression as he realized what was meant to be his major broadcast coup – Putin’s first interview with Western media since the invasion – was disappearing into the Swanee.
Far from a grand meeting of the minds between the Kremlin leader and Kremlin lover, Carlson, whose pain turned to panic as he realized he could not stop Putin from pontificating, appeared to have been taken hostage by ‘ an airy and disturbed Russian uncle, forced to listen to his noise forever. It must have been torture (something the Putin regime is particularly adept at). Those of us who avidly watched this two-hour slumberfest (so you don’t have to) quickly lost the will to live.
ANDREW NEIL: Carlson just sat there with an increasingly pained expression as he realized what was meant to be his big broadcast coup was disappearing into the Swanee
At a time when it is fashionable to disparage traditional broadcasting, this Cecil B de Mille of an interview, which went out on X, the digital platform formerly known as Twitter, and Carlson’s own website, made me nostalgic for the old-fashioned, well-researched, well-curated, focused inquisitions of established broadcasters at their best. In the end, it was Carlson who ended the meeting (in my experience, it’s usually the politician who wants to end it, especially if they’re on the ropes). Putin offered to keep talking. But an exhausted Carlson clearly couldn’t take any more. He surrendered. It’s hard to blame him.
As an interviewer who has interviewed leading politicians on both sides of the Atlantic for several decades, with a reputation for being well-informed and robust (I prefer ‘fair but forensic’), I readily concede that it is not It was not an easy act for Carlson, even though he brought it on himself.
Putin’s endless history lesson was revisionist, reviving Russian nationalist myths long rejected by proper historians, which he deployed to argue that Ukraine had always really been part of Russia. But if Carlson had challenged him on any of this, we might still be stuck dissecting the 9th century and Putin would still be talking. However, no self-respecting interviewer would surely have omitted Putin with the claim that it was not Hitler but the Poles who started World War II. Yet Carlson left it unchallenged.
Again, you could argue that there was nothing to be gained by getting bogged down in history. But Carlson was equally unchallenging when it came to Putin’s more outlandish claims and outright lies about contemporary events. He claimed to have withdrawn Russian troops from northern Kiev at the start of the invasion in 2022 as part of a peace deal, which Ukraine then reneged on. This is nonsense. Russia retreated with its tail between its legs due to unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance. But Carlson let it go.
‘We didn’t start this war,’ Putin claims without batting an eyelid ‘(the invasion in 2022) was an attempt to stop it’. This is a claim similar to George Orwell who called the propaganda ministry in his 1984, a novel about totalitarianism, the Ministry of Truth. Carlson didn’t say a word against the lie.
Putin said the aim of the invasion was the ‘denazification’ of Ukraine. This is an oft-repeated Kremlin talking point. Again it went unchallenged. Carlson might have pointed out that if there is anything that needs to be ‘denazified’, it is Putin’s increasingly totalitarian regime. But that would have spoiled the mood.
Another well-worn piece of Kremlin propaganda – that the invasion was in response to NATO’s eastern expansion – was repeated several times by Putin. Each time, Carlson nodded in agreement. He never once pointed out that the eastern expansion stopped long before the invasion. Putin was even allowed to get away with the absurd claim that the invasion was provoked by Ukraine getting rid of a pro-Kremlin stooge as its leader in 2014. This might explain why he annexed Crimea soon after. But he did not invade Ukraine until 2022.
Carlson was unchallenged when it came to Putin’s more outlandish claims and outright lies about contemporary events
Putin claimed that Russia did not start the war with Ukraine in his interview with Carlson, who did not dispute his position
Even more remarkable than the lies Putin was allowed to tell unchallenged were the questions Carlson had do not have ask. Nothing about Russia’s barbaric war crimes in Ukraine, the forced removal of Ukrainian children to Russia, the constant airstrikes on civilian areas, the deaths of thousands, the internal reign of terror over which Putin now presides in Russia, the long prison sentences for peaceful protesters, the lockdown and killing of opponents, the return of the gulag and forced labour.
About all this, not a word. It was if Carlson had interviewed Hitler in 1944 and hadn’t bothered to ask about the concentration camps.
But then Carlson had his own agenda – to feed Putin the red meat so beloved by his MAGA crowd back home for the Russian autocrat to munch on and blow for their pleasure. Putin was encouraged to claim that the CIA was trying to overthrow the Russian government and was behind the blowing up of the Nordstream gas pipeline.
No evidence was offered for either claim, but Carlson took it at face value – he only pressed Putin about why he doesn’t make more of these claims – because it plays into the Carlson/MAGA conspiracy theory that America is secretly run by a deep state, in which the CIA is a key player and which only Donald Trump can unravel.
Carlson couldn’t get enough of Putin about this apparently omnipresent American deep state: ‘Twice you described American presidents making decisions and then being undercut by their agency heads. So it sounds like you’re describing a system that isn’t run by the people who are elected, telling you.’ By this point, even Putin was embarrassed by the soft balls being ogled at him.
Putin never needed to push his propaganda position that at least parts of Ukraine are his. Carlson did it for him: Eastern Ukraine is ‘actually your country’, he helpfully tells Putin.
Perhaps the most bonkers question was when Carlson asked, “So do you see the supernatural at work when you look out over what’s happening in the world right now?” So do you see God at work?’ But there is a method to this madness.
The otherwise remarkable appeal of this Russian autocrat among America’s hard right is because they see him, however ridiculously, as the world’s last, unrelenting defender of Christian values against everything they hate or fear – migrants (especially Muslim migrants). , gays, transgender people, secret forces out to stop them, ‘global elite’.
There were two possible scoops (if true) in this turgid stew: that Bill Clinton once told him it was possible that Russia might join NATO, only to be beaten back by his ‘advisers’ (that deep state again); and that Boris Johnson, then British Prime Minister, thwarted a peace deal, with President Biden’s knowledge, by urging Ukraine to fight on.
It’s clear that Carlson won’t recognize a scoop if it hits him on the head, because rather than tease more about these interesting stories from Putin, he just moved on, curiously curious. We’ll see what Clinton and Johnson have to say about them.
But Carlson did have the grace and good sense to lobby Putin on the release of Evan Gershkovich, the young Wall Street Journal reporter jailed by Putin on felony espionage charges. Putin wouldn’t budge, but there was no harm in trying and he didn’t slam the door completely in Carlson’s face.
Heavy and boring as this interview was, it will have its intended damaging effect on America, where MAGA Republicans are already pushing for more military aid to Ukraine in Congress. Social media is already awash with praise for Putin from the Carlson/MAGA cult. Thus Ukraine’s President Zelensky was further undermined. Job done, Tucker.
The interview was also enlightening in ways it wasn’t intended to be. It confirmed that President Putin is terrifyingly isolated, crazy, bad and dangerous and increasingly living in an ethno-nationalist Russian world of his own. As for his interviewer, once the doyenne of the Fox News prime time line-up until he was unceremoniously fired last April, since then, bereft of even Fox’s loose editorial standards, he has retreated to the outer reaches of conspiracy theory madness . Now, steamrolled by an aging autocrat, Tucker Carlson has been confirmed as a fool.